Newswise — Washington D.C. – New research suggests that there are links between dietary fat levels in the body and sleep habits. In a new synthesis of evidence from 12 studies and five nations, people with higher concentrations of long-chain fatty acids in their bodies were less likely to sleep excessively.

The new research supported by IAFNS combined data from around the globe on over 20,000 people who reported their sleep habits. The study is remarkable as it used data on specific types of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the blood of people, rather than self-reported dietary intake which is prone to bias.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids were unrelated to either difficulty falling asleep or getting too little sleep. However, people with higher levels of very long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA), were less likely to have excessively long sleep (9+ hours/night).

Very long-chain omega-3 fatty acids could play a role in maintaining normal healthy sleep as part of hormonal regulation affecting sleep/wake cycles.  In this large study across 12 different study groups, only the very long chain omega-3 fats found in fish and some marine plants (DHA and EPA) were associated with lower risk of exceptionally long sleep times. The other polyunsaturated fats including the form of omega-3 (ALA) found in plant foods like flax were not associated with reduced risk of long sleep duration.

The study appears in a recent issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Uncovering relationships across such a large number of subjects is important, but the researchers caution that “while objective biomarkers reduce recall bias and misclassification, the cross-sectional design limits assessment of the temporal nature of this relation.” According to the authors, “These novel findings across 12 cohorts highlight the need for experimental and biological assessments of very long-chain n-3 PUFAs and sleep duration.”

Because of the global nature and scope involved, 32 investigators contributed to this research. According to lead author Dr. Rachel Murphy of the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia, “Suboptimal sleep is a major public health problem. This study provides new insight into factors that may help support healthy sleep. EPA and DHA intake can be easily modified through diet, although continued study of mechanisms underlying these fatty acids and sleep are needed.”

IAFNS Director Dr. Wendelyn Jones notes that this is “one of the largest papers published on links between sleep and dietary fats and opens up new lines of inquiry to benefit public health.”


The study was funded by the Institute for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences (IAFNS), which is committed to leading positive change across the food and beverage ecosystem. The research above was supported by IAFNS Dietary Lipids Committee. IAFNS is a 501(c)(3) science-focused nonprofit uniquely positioned to mobilize government, industry and academia to drive, fund and lead actionable research.


Journal Link: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition